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Friday, January 30, 2004
  Authoritative sources: Trust Greg Dyke or Roland Rat?
Dyke critical over Hutton report: This is a BBC report, where the late departed of the BBC Greg Dyke makes his position clearer, and raises some uncomfortable consitutional issues. His comments are especially perspicacious regarding newsroom and public news culture.

"Lord Hutton does seem to suggest that it is not enough for a broadcaster or a newspaper... to simply report what a whistleblower says because they are an authoritative source. You have to demonstrate that it is true. That would change the law in this country," he said.

Of course, is Mr Dyke, the most popular BBC DG for aeons by all accounts, an authoritative source for me? Some would say his presiding over the appearance of Roland Rat on ITV a while back would disqualify him. I personally privilege his integrity and downgrade my belief and trust in the veracity of government sources because of the information I receive... but then have to admit that information comes from the very BBC and other media reports which we talk about.

Ah yes, the bone of contention: the recursivity of daily life. How can I find information not filtered through professional media? Blogs? Well, where do blogs get their stories and information?
Unless we are actually there at the time, judgements on where an objective standpoint become difficult. And, as we see, even then it's not so easy for the actors in the political scenarios themselves to come to a gentlemanly, discursive agreement.

Journalists generally use certain practices for obtaining their stories, such as contacts books (using the same sources again and again, because they fulfil the criteria of making it easy for the journalist to write the copy in time. Attributes like easy to find, articulate, reliable, powerful, friendly, eager, understandable, close by, attractive, are all the sort fo thing which may help a course be well-used by a journalist for these ends.. This means sometimes their information is the most likely to be accurate, and sometimes it is not: that is not - sadly - the top criterion in the practice of news.

However that being said, as Gavyn Davies and Mr Dyke himself complained, the referee was not necessarily an independent choice. And note the commentator in that second link is a Labour party stalwart. The Government gets to choose the referee: Imagine Manchester United being able to choose the judges over the Rio Ferdinand case..

Even if the BBC made mistakes, they admitted it. Rather than castigate the BBC, one might examine instead the very journalistic practices of what is a source, and what makes a source an authoritative one when you're a journalist trying to get the newest news out under trime and professional aesthetic constraints. I'd recommend Prof. Barry Glassner on this subject, whose PhD seminar I happen to be taking this term. Now Now there's an authoritative source. But then we all know that because he's been on TV...




Update 31 Jan 04, 13.54: Greg Palast wirtes about this issue on Alternet 
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